Today’s passage is one of those where it can be hard to place ourselves in the mind-set of the people who first heard it. We can try our best, but it’s nearly impossible for most of us to recreate the physical, emotional, and spiritual distress of an entire nation that has been sent into exile. The people of Israel haven’t just lost their homes; they have lost their sense of safety, their sense of control over their own lives, and for some, even their sense of identity as God’s chosen people. It must have been devastating on every level.
And then Isaiah offers them today’s reading. These words must feel like drinking deeply from cold water when you’re dying of thirst. Isaiah tells the people that God has neither abandoned them nor forgotten them. Far from it. God is coming and will bring relief from all the pain and suffering that has afflicted them for so long. They will be comforted, they will be freed, they will be healed, and perhaps most importantly, they will be vindicated.
Where John’s Gospel talks about the light, here Isaiah addresses the darkness. Everything that has been taken away will be not only restored but also renewed. Life will spring again from places that were marked with death. You can almost feel the rising passion as Isaiah’s words build.
It’s important to note that God is not the only one acting here. Yes, God will free the people, and God will heal them. But it is the people, those who have been powerless, who will rebuild the ruins and restore the places deserted by past generations. God doesn’t just act on our behalf; God empowers us to act.
God, you bring relief to our pain and justice to our suffering. Restore us and support us as we work to bring your will to the world. Amen.
Isaiah speaks of the day in which God’s Anointed One (Messiah) will bring good news to the poor and hope to the oppressed. Jesus will later read this passage and declare it to be about himself (Luke 4), so we read Isaiah’s prophecy during Advent. The psalmist rejoices that God has restored the fortunes of the people. They have come through a period of difficulty, but God has brought them into a place of joy. Throughout Advent, we also look forward to such rejoicing. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to pray continually with an attitude of gratitude and rejoicing, and the God of peace will sustain them. In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist repeats the theme from last week—that he is merely the messenger to prepare the way for the Lord.
Read Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11. God is coming. How do Isaiah’s words of praise and justice inspire you to act in response?
Read Psalm 126. How do you celebrate the justice that you have seen come to fruition while hoping for future justice? How does your anticipation of the fullness of justice affect your faith?
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. How can you return to the basics of faith during this Advent season?
Read John 1:6-8, 19-28. How is this Advent season both familiar and new for you? How might simple announcements of Jesus’ coming change your experience of the season?
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